22 Awesome Social Enterprise Ideas and Examples

There are several ways you can go about searching for social enterprise ideas. Seeing examples of social enterprise in action is one of these best ways to get inspired for what you might want to create!

Social enterprise ideas, unlike conventional business ideas, typically result from a desire to solve a social need; similar to how many non-profit and charity organizations find their beginning.

As the message of merging business acumen and innovation with the task of building lasting social change spreads, and along with increasing numbers of powerful examples of positive change manifesting around the world, the social enterprise movement continues to gain traction. With this entrepreneurial approach to diversifying funding streams, an organization can be freed from “strings-attached” grant funding and often unreliable corporate or individual donations.

Before sharing a list of social entrepreneurship examples in action, let’s address a few of the most commonly asked questions about social enterprise:

How is a social enterprise different from a business?

Traditional business ideas can also come from identifying a social need but the difference between a social enterprise and a traditional business is the motivation of the entrepreneur. The primary motivation for a traditional entrepreneur is more-often-than-not a desire to make money whereas a social entrepreneur is driven fist and foremost by a passion to solve a social problem. Setting up as a business or using market principles (i.e. selling products or services) is used as a mechanism to solve the social or environmental problems they seek to impact.

What are the main objectives of a social enterprise?

Because of the different motivations that drive the two types of entrepreneurs, we must consider that their businesses will function a bit differently. We often hear the business world talk about focusing on the bottom line business practices that lead to increased monetary profitability. In comparison, social businesses focus on double – or triple – bottom line business practices that lead to social, environmental AND economic profitability.

Acumen defines social enterprise as: “Any enterprise that prioritizes transformative social impact while striving for financial sustainability.”

What qualifies as a social enterprise?

Social Enterprise is the practice of using market-based, entrepreneurial strategies for the purpose of progressing an organization’s social or environmental impact.

Social Enterprises can take many forms and are not restricted to one particular legal structure or business model design.

“Social Entrepreneurship uses business models – selling products or services – to solve social problems.” – Trico Foundation

Organizations that address a basic unmet need or solve a social problem through a market-driven approach.” – Social Business Alliance

How does a social enterprise work?

With goals to achieve both social impact and financial sustainability, social enterprises look to a unique set of business models to achieve their goals.

Some of the most common business model frameworks social enterprises use are:

1. Cross-Compensation – One group of customers pays for the service. Profits from this group are used to subsidize the service for another, underserved group.

2. Fee for Service – Beneficiaries pay directly for the goods or services provided by the social enterprise.

3. Employment and skills training – The core purpose is to provide living wages, skills development, and job training to the beneficiaries: the employees.

4. Market Intermediary – The social enterprise acts as an intermediary, or distributor, to an expanded market. The beneficiaries are the suppliers of the product and/or service that is being distributed to an international market.

5. Market Connector – The social enterprise facilitates trade relationships between beneficiaries and new markets.

6. Independent Support – The social enterprise delivers a product or service to an external market that is separate from the beneficiary and social impact generated. Funds are used to support social programs to the beneficiary.

7. Cooperative – A for-profit or nonprofit business that is owned by its members who also use its services, providing virtually any type of goods or services.

Can a social enterprise be for profit?

Yes, social enterprises can take on any legal structure!

A social enterprise approach is only a means to an end: the profit-making strategies are not in place for profit maximization but are in place as an essential component to bring about social or environmental change in a meaningful and long term way.

What is an example of social enterprise?

Aravind Eye Care is one of the earliest examples of a social enterprise model at work. This renowned Indian organization is designed to let people pay what they can. Aravind provides cataract surgery and other eye care services to any one who comes for it regardless of their ability to pay. Those who can afford to pay market price, do, and those who can’t, don’t. Amazingly, the number of patients who chose to pay covers the cost of providing care to the entire client base, allowing for wholistic care for all who need it.

I hope you’ll join me for this live workshop this Friday, September 25th:

Join live Friday, September 25th @ 1pm EST


Now let’s look at our list of 22 Awesome Social Enterprise Examples!

Social Supermarket

(Business Model: Fee for Service. Example: Community Shop) – Create a food market that sells food to low-income communities at a discounted price. Discounted food is donated (or purchased very cheaply) from food suppliers and other supermarkets, who cannot sell the food themselves for a variety of reasons such as approaching expiry dates, dented cans, and product mislabeling.


Used Textbooks for Social Change

Social Change

(Business Model: Cross-compensation and Independent Support. Example: Textbooks for Change) – Partner with student groups/clubs to collect used textbooks at the end of each semester. Students donate their used textbooks. Some of the textbooks are re-sold to students at the college/university of their collection source; some of the textbooks are donated to students in need at underserved universities in the developing world. The profits are split between the student groups/clubs, program administration costs, and any remaining funds are used to support social programs in developing communities.


Online Socially Conscious Marketplace

Online market

(Business Model: Market Connector. Examples: ArtZoco and eBatuta) – Help underserved artisans sell their products to the world by building a platform that makes it easy for them. Artisans can either manage their online store directly, or the platform can act merely as a listing service that connects the artisans face-to-face with buyers. Revenue is created by either charging listing fees directly to the artisan, via a commission on goods sold, or built-in as a premium fee to the buyer. Profit generated can be used to fund social services that directly affect the artisan communities.


Sustainable Water 

Sustainable Water

(Business Model: Fee for Service. Example: Water Health International) – Build small water purification stations in communities in developing countries using off-the-shelf products. Initial funds to build it can come from traditional charitable methods, or through debt/equity financing; the communities can be partial owners (or full owners, if using cooperative business model). Ongoing costs to maintain and staff the water station come from the sale of purified water to its beneficiaries, but at near break-even levels, costing almost nothing for the beneficiaries.


Micro Lending 

Micro Leding

(Business Model: Market Connector. Example: Kiva) – Create a platform for individuals and organizations to lend money directly to entrepreneurs who would otherwise not get funding, such as those in the developing world. Charge a small fee to cover the operational costs.


Social Crowdfunding 

Crowd Funding

(Business Model: Market Connector. Example: Start Some Good) – Build a platform for social entrepreneurs to find groups of funders. Similar to the Micro Lending platform, but lenders take a promise of something in the future in return for ‘donating’ a bit of money to the Social Entrepreneur’s project now. Charge a small fee to cover the operational costs of the platform.


Baking/Cooking for a Social Cause 

Baking for a social cause

(Business Model: Employment and Skills Training. Example: Edgar and Joe’s) – Open a bakery/restaurant or another food-providing establishment that focuses on building employment skills for underemployed groups, such as at-risk youth or former drug addicts. The profit from sales of food and beverage go to wages, training, and social betterment programs for the staff-beneficiaries.


Efficient Wood Stoves for Developing World 


(Business Model: Cross-Compensation. Example: Bio Lite) – Millions of women in developing countries suffer from cardiopulmonary diseases as a direct result of breathing in wood smoke on a daily basis. Build a more efficient stove to solve this problem. Sell the stoves at or above market rate to those who can afford it, and use the money from the sale of the stoves to partly subsidize the cost for those who cannot afford it.


Innovative Information Product 

Innovative Products

(Business model: Cross-Compensation. Example: Information Blanket) – Create a baby blanket with information about how to take care of a baby, such as when to immunize, how big a baby should be at a specific age, and how often to feed the baby. The regions where baby education is scarce are the same regions where income tends to be low. Therefore, these blankets could be given freely to new mothers in low-income areas, while they could be sold to new mothers in wealthier areas. Proceeds from sales would fund blankets and education for new mothers in poor areas.


Micro Power Generation

Micro power generation

(Business Model: Fee for Service. Examples: Husk Power) – Provide micro-electric solutions for remote applications in the developing world. Two ways you could do this are to create a stand-alone power system from used, rechargeable batteries to power classrooms. Or, you could create a mini power plant that uses biomass produced by the humans, plants, and animals of an off-grid village. These types of systems are very cheap to build and implement and can be paid for on a fee-for-usage basis. This idea might also lend itself well as a cooperative.


Socially Conscious Consumer Electronics

(Business Model: Fee for Service and Market Intermediary. Examples: Fair Phone.) Build a new kind of consumer electronic device; one that is built with conflict-free materials, provides fair wages to the workers who build it, offers a fair and transparent price for the end consumer, and does not engage in unfair consumer practices (such as locking smartphones, or creating proprietary software/hardware interfaces).



Education Books on a Social Topic


(Business Model: Fee for Service and independent support. Example: Chef’s Collaborative Network) Create a book or other educational publication, whose benefit is easily understood and salable. Learning about the topic of the social education book should benefit the reader, such as a recipe book that focuses on recipes that promote sustainable food culture. The proceeds from the book are used to support education initiatives along with the same topic and to group who will have the most impact and benefit. In the case of sustainable food preparation practices, the target education group would-be chefs.


Ultra-Modern Technology to Attract Economic Development

ultramodern technology

(Business Model: Fee for Service. Cooperative. Example: O-Net) A small community normally doesn’t have much to offer a business, unless you make it a place that has the best business service in one area. For instance, you could create an internet service that is owned by the community and provides internet access at ten-times the bandwidth for the same price as those in another community would have to pay. The cost could be subsidized by the community, but it would attract high-tech businesses to locate in the community, fueling the local economy and benefiting everyone in it.


Beauty Products to Support a Social Mission

(Business Model: Independent Support. Example: Bottle 4 Bottle.) Partner with major beauty brands to sell their products as an online retailer. Convince them to provide their products to you at a favorable wholesale rate, and divert the profits to purchasing milk and baby bottles for distribution in the developing world.


A Virtual Factory of Computer Workers

(Business Model: Employment and Skills Training. Example: Cloud Factory.) Build an online community of computer workers, hired from underemployed communities. Train each of them to do one computer-related thing well (ie. writing functions in a particular programming language, translating code for a specific and common API, etc.) Combine dozens of them to complete a product, such as a website, for a client that would normally only require 1 or 2 people. Because each person is highly micro-specialized, the larger team forms as a virtual ‘assembly line’ to finish the project faster, cheaper, and with a higher quality standard than the traditional method of locally hiring or outsourcing a broad-range knowledge worker. Virtual assembly line workers enjoy employment with higher wages than they would normally receive doing menial work.


A marketplace for social good

Market place

(Business Model: Market Intermediary. Example: Do Good Buy Us and Ten Thousand Villages.) Sell socially and ethically conscious products in a virtual or real environment. By purchasing these products from the producers, the social good flows-down the logistics chain to the beneficiaries, and consumers are able to find a bunch of the products they want in a convenient shopping format.


Exercise equipment for social outreach

(Business Model: Fee for Service and Cross-Compensation. Example: Rubber Banditz.) Sell a piece of exercise equipment that is simple to use and affordable. Promote the equipment as an alternative to full gym access for those who can’t afford it. Use profits and product to subsidize outreach programs that promote healthy living, thus promoting healthy living to two underserved groups: direct customers and outreach participants.


Educational travel company


(Business Model: Fee for Service. Examples: Think Impact and Evoluzion.) Start a company that brings together travelers with experiences that provide an intercultural learning experience and a positive social impact on a local community. Profits are recycled back into the communities they affect.


Food for Philanthropy


(Business Model: Independent support. Examples: Newman’s Own and Late.) Create a food company that provides an already needed/wanted product and use the profits to support philanthropic work. The company is easily scalable and can focus on just one product line/charity, or can be easily scaled to provide multiple food products and support a variety of charities.


Social products and employment for the underserved

Social Employment

(Business Model: Employment and Skills Training, Fee for Service. Example: Livelyhoods.) Source one or several social good products (clean cookstoves, affordable power solutions for the developing world), and hire an underemployed group to sell these products to their community on a commision basis. It’s both a distribution/marketing method and a way to employ underemployed populations.


Water for everyone!

(Business model: Cross-compensation. Example: Soma Water.) Create a home water filtration solution that you sell to the first world, and use the proceeds of these sales to provide the same (or similar) solution to the developing world. As a bonus, use environmentally friendly materials and processes in the creation of the product.


Micro-Giving for easy philanthropy

(Business Model: Cross-compensation or independent support. Example: B1G1.) Partner with businesses and have them donate micro amounts of products/money to a social cause for every transaction they enter. For example, set up a relationship with a baker. And for every loaf of bread they sell, have them donate a handful of flour (or monetary equivalent) to a food-aid organization in the developing world.


  • Jessicaferng

    Reply Reply March 16, 2015

    great idea!and what i learn the most key point is to care people’s need,fucus on their deep side,and make a social work plan to bulid social value!

  • George

    Reply Reply March 25, 2015

    This is an awesome wrap-up of some of key social enterprise concepts. Nice work. In particular, we here at The Shop for Change (www.theshopforchange.com) agree that you are on the right track with Number 3 – Online Socially Conscious Marketplace! Your description is a great summary of our business. 🙂

    Have we done what you were thinking? What do you think?

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply March 25, 2015

      Hey George, thanks for sharing your work! Certainly fits into #3 – Online Socially Conscious Marketplace!

      So great to see these frameworks in action around the globe and it looks like you have some fantastic artisan partnerships and products in place. Any advice or words of wisdom to others heading down a similar path?

      We are in the middle of working on “Another 22 Awesome Social Enterprise Ideas” so if you (or anyone else) sees a common model, framework, or awesome social enterprise idea that we missed, please let us know!

      Keep up the great work George 🙂

  • Moanamisi Gadiile

    Reply Reply July 23, 2015

    Awesome ideas indeed and thanking you for the light!Currently working on social enterprise and i am now confident that some of the ideas i have will bear fruits.
    Keep the fire burning for change!

  • kasujja Muhamed

    Reply Reply July 28, 2015

    I really enjoy article every idea fits in my Communities both rural and urban slum communties. I kindly request if there is any opportunity to work with you guys l welcome you in Uganda one day. Kasujja muhamed founder lnternational schools partnership orgn. Kampala, uganda

  • Khaing Su yin

    Reply Reply August 9, 2015

    I like all


    Reply Reply October 19, 2016

    allright for sharing many social enterprise. Let us shape our world through innovative ideas.

  • Lillian

    Reply Reply November 2, 2016

    Just came across your site and really enjoyed your ideas. Thanks for sharing. Those of us who want to contribute to making sustainable socioeconomic changes in our communities will find this extremely useful. Great write-up

  • Eliel

    Reply Reply November 24, 2016

    This article helped me a lot. I have been reading a lot from Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate, and I have been looking for ways to put these ideas into practice. You really did a great job of doing exactly that. I hope that my work at Better Better Better becomes as influential as your work is now.

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply November 25, 2016

      I’m so glad you found it helpful Eliel! And thank you for the kind works. I have no doubt as you stick with it your work will grow and impact more and more people who need to hear from you!


    Reply Reply December 3, 2016

    I come from a poor community in the Philippines, a developing country. I want to produce an herbal ointment to cure wounds. I already have the formula. I discovered this while I was working as a researcher in a nutraceutical company some years ago. I also once worked as a medical representative in one pharmaceutical company and this is where I have found out that many people, especially children in the countryside who have wounds and other skin disorders are not cured because they simply cannot afford the cost of topical medications.The product that I wanted to produce is as effective but a lot safer than synthetic preparations. And it is much cheaper ( Php 60.00 per 20 gms vs. Php 270.00 per 10 gms). If I can get help in producing this herbal wound healing ointment, it will help a lot of my poor countrymen who suffer from this diseases. I plan to do it through social marketing.


    Reply Reply December 8, 2016

    Very Grateful for the article, it was really inspiring and educative. I am currently creating and organisation aim at empowering the youths sustainably. But we are facing a lot of challenges to get to possible funders. I will wish to learned more on empowered fund raising or get linked to possible funders.

  • Waleed Khan

    Reply Reply December 22, 2016

    Great list. Especially the community-shop idea.

  • jerome

    Reply Reply February 2, 2017


  • Innocent Ntakiyiruta

    Reply Reply March 23, 2017

    This is an awesome article!
    Thank you very much.
    Keep up

  • Samuel Maruta

    Reply Reply April 13, 2017

    Interesting and usable ideas. Thank you!

  • Cynthia

    Reply Reply June 14, 2017

    Thanks for this useful information you shared, I am in South Africa and run a profit driven company but have identified a need for a social enterprise and was looking for information. Thank you very much, please make contact so I could give you feedback how it unfolded.


  • Business Ideas

    Reply Reply August 20, 2017

    Nice Article. Very comprehensive as well as informative. Thanks for the sharing!

  • Sven of Project Grow (Chch)

    Reply Reply October 4, 2017

    What a fantastic resource, this has certainly spurred my research for a local social enterprise project in Christchurch, New Zealand. Suggestions for you next list could perhaps include:
    Transport – the building & maintenance of cargo bikes or micro-electric vehicles, or perhaps micro businesses around such a vehicle (ice-cream or hot-dog cart? short distance taxi? local tourist transport with driver/tour-guide? package delivery company?)
    Social Housing – The design & delivery of low cost social housing – perhaps portable-emergency shelters for the homeless or for disaster areas, transportable micro-homes, or micro-home villages that people can rent to own.
    Food Resilience – (This is an area of specialty for me, please contact me if you wish for further information) Micro-green production, basic hort. training, micro-business production, cooperatives, budgeting & cooking resources and training etc etc etc
    Disaster Preparedness kits/First Aid Kits – these could be kits that are built as part of a business that allows people to either purchase up front or on a time-payment.
    Community workshop – allows training in practical skills (leather working, stone or bone carving, wood working, weaving or sewing, etc). Then runs programs designed to help a small group to develop a product range and supports them constructing, packaging & marketing – possibly through an attached shop or e-commerce site.
    Hope these help – kind regards Sven

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply October 25, 2017

      Thanks Sven for sharing more great examples!

    • Dorina R. Mathayo

      Reply Reply May 27, 2018

      Thank you for a useful content

    • Meseret Gizaw

      Reply Reply June 13, 2020

      Hi,Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights about the topic. I have learned a lot from this useful contents. Would you also share me further resources on the issues that: Food Resilience – (This is an area of specialty for me, Micro-green production, basic hort. training, micro-business production, cooperatives, budgeting & cooking resources and training etc. I was working for youth development program on SME in Ethiopia and I am committed to unfold the practice in partnership with different, private, NPO, GO and NGOs.


  • Devin

    Reply Reply October 11, 2017

    Very informative article. Thanks for all of the great ideas!

  • Md Habibur Rahman Khan

    Reply Reply November 8, 2017

    Awesome ideas indeed!Currently working on social enterprise and i am now confident that some of the ideas i have will bear fruits.
    Keep the fire burning for change!

  • Md Habibur Rahman Khan

    Reply Reply November 8, 2017

    I strongly believe, community workshops will bring q good fruits. Special in the third world where womens are one kind confined…

  • Isis Siefke

    Reply Reply November 19, 2017

    Hi there, awesome post. I just like the artwork things. Thank you for writing this & giving us inspiration.

  • Avituo Zhünyü

    Reply Reply February 1, 2018

    I along with some friends run a community centre where we give space to anyone to share their skills, ideas, stories, so on. But I would also like to share an idea which I have been thinking, a farm hostel for underprivileged children. Where the kids don’t have to pay any hostel fees but run a farm, be it poultry, piggery, rabbitry or any other and from the benefits they can sustain themselves and also their education expenses. I am Just a thought so people can also contribute and enlarge my idea.

    • Dorina R. Mathayo

      Reply Reply May 27, 2018

      That’s a great idea. Let me brainstorm to add input to your idea

    • April

      Reply Reply May 31, 2018

      Awesome idea Avituo

  • Rogers Mahanyu

    Reply Reply February 2, 2018

    I came across your website when I was searching for social enterprise ideas, just to see what others around the world are thinking. Great ideas! Thank you

    From Tanzania, East Africa

  • So good I am inspired

  • Enoch Ndiyo

    Reply Reply April 12, 2018

    Thank you very much for your advice and i was touched by 1,2,4,5,6, and 9.

  • Dorina R. Mathayo

    Reply Reply May 27, 2018

    This has happened to be a very useful content to me as iam pursuing a course on social enterprise. I would like to learn more, please let’s support each other to address the social problems of our communities.
    My dedication for you guys is a song ‘I was here’ by Beyonce
    Thank you very much

  • Rachell

    Reply Reply June 9, 2018

    Awesome , this all sounds practical.Thank you

  • Elisa

    Reply Reply August 15, 2018

    Great article! Definitely sharing with my Linkedin network.

    One framework I have seen work very well is where the social enterprise acts as a supply aggregator. It’s similar to #4 market intermediary with a subtle difference – the beneficiaries by themselves lack critical mass to bring a product to market in the absence of a coop. For example, a farmer that has a couple of cows doesn’t produce enough milk to make cheese, and can’t sell locally because his other farmer friends also have cows and make their own cheese. A social enterprise then comes in to buy the excess milk from all the farmers in the area to have the cheese manufactured and can then sell it to a wider market. The same logic may apply to cacao farmers.

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply August 22, 2018

      Thanks for sharing Elisa! You are absolutely right – this is another great example of a social enterprise model in action.

  • danish

    Reply Reply October 3, 2018

    great article about social business project. this will be very useful for my reference as currently we are about to start a social business project in part of Borneo as part of our MBA project. thank you very much

  • florence

    Reply Reply January 29, 2019

    Hello Thanks for the great ideas, i work for the development department of the catholic church and would wish to develop a social impact project.
    Am based in eastern parts of kenya which is arid and semi arid. The region experience frequent droughts and as such i need a project which can thrive.
    Have considered the mini grid approach because we have alot of free sun and a solar system can work and be of great help.
    Have as borehole drilled and believe if i can get nice solar system it can serve a number of initiatives for income generation.
    Can you help me shape my idea?

  • avinash

    Reply Reply August 24, 2019

    hey iam avinash from Nepal.great thought about social business project this is very useful to our society and ngos who r worked under the many social problems in our countery hope many ideas comig soon….

  • Diogenes Osabel

    Reply Reply April 2, 2020

    Good job, guys! In these Covid-19 times, we need to look at other creative ways of creating employment and income for families who lost their jobs or closed their shops/businesses. The framework you have provided can apply to many viable community-based enterprises that should be within a 3-5 kilometer radius — accessible to clients and customers, especially in “locked down” localities. A few ideas I have in mind are urban agriculture and gardening services, house cleaning, laundry, and home fixing (electrical, carpentry, plumbing), tutorial services, etc. Thank you, and God bless you, guys! Keep safe.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field